Church, sustainability, community and the riots

Apologies to regular readers for a rather longer break than intended. As so often happens, you’re taking a break but your to-do list doesn’t! I’d also promised to write a paper on the church’s role in sustainability (to be published as part of KLICE’s Ethics in Brief series shortly).

One section of that discussed the state of society, picking up the familiar argument that having strong local communities is both an important factor in helping sustainable living and more energy-efficient. Whether by choice or through necessity, it seems a reversal of our more geographically-independent existence is inevitable, and gives the local church an opportunity to once again engage more with its neighbourhood.

But having returned from a week away from the news to the shock of the worst social disorder in a generation, I ended up considerably more pessimistic. In previous difficult times (the Depression and WWII) local communities pulled together, but what if there is little community to fall back on, or – as seems to have been the case in recent weeks – a section of people disaffected from it. Do we just face increasing anarchy in future decades?

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only person to have been asking these questions, and I wanted to share a couple of observations I found helpful. Anthea Hawke at Brook Lyndhurst writes

Those of us that have an interest in, or work in, the field of sustainability need to make ourselves more relevant and more vocal. The challenge is not about getting a few more people to take their old brogues to Cancer Research (although that’s also very important), it’s to offer an alternative set of aspirations and social goals to aspire to, which speak to those individuals and communities. Yes, even those scary ones with masks on….

This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to try and avoid making assumptions about what’s happening and why. I’m going to talk to more people in my community when I get the chance, and I’m not going to buy-in to the media hype that I should be afraid of people who live (figuratively speaking) next door to me. Who’s in?

A recent post by Sharon Astyk on US culture includes the following:

Much of what I write about in terms of Adaptation, particularly for people living in densely populated areas, but really for all of us, involves enlisting the people around you. This is an enormously difficult job for most of us – partly because of the anomie of our culture, partly because we are not accustomed to community, partly simply because we have not had to. For several generations each of us could have a fossil fueled, private solution to needs once met collectively.

These two between them sum up the challenge. For many of us, there will be further obstacles. As well-educated sustainability experts we at least feel we have a purpose and a future in the new world ahead. Those coming out of school or university with no qualifications, or qualifications which seem unwanted by the job market, are in a totally different place. This is why I think Anthea’s promise to listen is so important. It’s tempting to think we have all the answers but paternalism is just going to turn people off what we have to say.

The church too has to tread carefully, for similar reasons. It has an enormous amount to offer, even to those who have no interest at all in faith, but needs to gain or regain people’s trust and find out what they feel they need, rather than just “doing good” as it tried to do in the past.

But there are great opportunities too. Both groups know the benefit of stronger communities, and have ideas how they can be fostered to aid a better and more sustainable future for all. So despite the difficulties, let’s be encouraged to try.



Filed under Thoughts

3 responses to “Church, sustainability, community and the riots

  1. David Cameron’s hugely misunderstood “Hug a Hoodie” comment when he was leader of opposition had a great deal of sense behind it.
    I have just returned from a conference on The Science of Empathy, the Spirit of Compassion, looking amongst other things at social significance – and whose organisers promote the Inspire/aspire programme for school children that schools can participate in see for details.
    Roots of Empathy for younger children also worth looking at and promoting see
    and we need to look at the whole issue of suitable education – a Tibetan monk observed that our education is not currently designed to produce good rounded citizens – only to achieve academic league table positions. I will be writing a report on the conference soon at

  2. Colin Bell

    Thanks for those ideas – it will be good to see what you write and follow up the ideas of that conference.

    The theme of education is clearly an important one in the wider sustainability debate too. I haven’t had a chance yet to think through it enough to give much wisdom, but we’re clearly still educating our kids to grow up into the world that we know has to pass away, and may even be already under severe threat by the time they leave school.

    It would be very interesting to see, for instance, what a secondary school curriculum designed by the Transition movement would look like. Definitely a lot more hands-on than the purely academic one our government (and us) prize most highly.

    Unfortunately, getting anything like that implemented is clearly many years off. I just hope the generation now in primary school don’t curse us for leaving them unequipped to face the world they’ll be entering as adults in the 2020s.

  3. Colin Bell

    Digging around in my pile of “interesting blogposts” for something else tonight, and found this article by Dianne Monroe. It tries to answer the question “How can we nurture and raise children so they can grow into adults who are able to survive, thrive and contribute to new ways of being with the Earth and each other?” Well worth reading to complement Eleanor’s links.

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